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Why we should chart the traffic that matters

Very occasionally I get contacted by somebody who says: “The search engine referrals to my website have dropped significantly in the last few weeks – what have I done wrong?” Sometimes they have indeed done something wrong; it’s possible to accidentally stop Google from indexing your site with just one character in your ‘robots.txt’ file, and I’ve seen careless web designers do just that. Usually however it’s just a change in the way Google ranks sites, and we should all be prepared for these to be negative on occasions. You almost certainly haven’t been ‘penalised’ for some arbitrary unknown transgression – such acts by Google are few and far between nowadays.

One site I run has jumped up twice this year, from 1000 visits a week to 2000 and recently to 3000 – all down to Google. When we looked into it, at least one of those jumps was caused by Google suddenly deciding that the site should be ranking more highly in other countries, rather than just the UK, where it’s targeted. I’ve no idea what triggered that: did the rules change, or did the interest from overseas pass some sort of threshold? As it happens, the site isn’t really aimed outside my locality, although I can see why it might be of interest on the other side of the world. So the jump, while making my Google Analytics visitor chart look nice, isn’t really going to help us.

However, if the traffic can go one way, it can just as easily go the other. Maybe when we look at step changes in the wrong direction, they’re nothing to worry about, because the lost traffic wasn’t important to the business. That’s why I’d always recommend ignoring ‘All Traffic’ reports and charting the traffic that matters – engaged visits from the geographical area you serve.